How to prove liability in Pennsylvania slip and fall claims. Fall accidents are very common in the U.S. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of three million older adults are treated in the emergency department every year for fall injuries, and 800,000 people are hospitalized for injuries that they have sustained in falls. When fall accidents happen when people are visiting the property of others, the property owners might be liable in some cases but not liable in others.
If you have been injured after slipping or tripping and falling while you were visiting a business, the private property of another person, or public property, you might wonder whether you can recover damages to compensate you for the losses that you have suffered. In some cases, property owners will not be liable for injuries in fall accidents. For example, a business might not be liable if you slipped and fell in something that was spilled in the seconds before your accident because the business would not have had time to discover the spill and clean it. Property owners also will often not be found to be liable when people slip and fall because of something that a reasonable person would be expected to see and avoid.
Property owners are required to keep their properties in reasonably safe conditions for people who are legally present. Slip-and-fall accident cases frequently turn on the reasonableness of the property owners’ actions to prevent falls and the negligence of the victims in failing to avoid falling. Determining liability in a potential slip-and-fall claim is important to figure out whether the claim has legal merits. The legal team at DiCindio Law can evaluate claims and explain whether the victims have grounds to file lawsuits and recover damages.
Liability in slip-and-fall cases
Before you can recover damages after suffering injuries in a slip-and-fall accident, you will need to be able to prove that the business or property owner was liable for what happened to you.
To succeed, you will need to show that one of the following situations occurred in your case:
- The hazardous condition that caused your fall was created by the property owner or an employee.
- The property owner or an employee must have known about the dangerous condition but failed to do anything about it.
- The property owner or an employee should have known about the dangerous condition because a reasonably prudent person would have discovered and fixed it.
Out of the three scenarios, the third one is the most common. However, it is also not as clear-cut as the other two because plaintiffs must prove that the property owner should have known about the hazardous condition. In these types of cases, liability frequently is determined by common sense. A jury will determine whether the property owner was appropriately careful by examining the steps that the owner took to ensure that the property remained safe.
In many slip-and-fall negligence claims, the reasonableness of the defendant’s actions will be important. The court will look at whether the property owner engaged in regular and thorough activities to try to maintain the property in a clean and safe condition. For example, if you tripped and fell over a broken or torn area of the floor or carpet or slipped on a slick area, determining how long the dangerous spot had been there will be important to show that the owner either knew or should have known about it.
If the property owner has a regular schedule or procedure for inspecting and cleaning the premises, you will want to get copies of any proof that the owner has that the maintenance was conducted. For example, the business might have a maintenance and inspection log that the employees initial.
If you fell because you tripped over an object that someone had left on the ground, the reason why the object was placed there will be important. If there was a legitimate reason for its placement, you might not have grounds to file a claim. However, if the reason for the object being placed there no longer exists, you will want to explore whether it could have been removed or made safe in a different way. You will also want to investigate whether the object could have been placed in a different, safer spot without substantial expense or inconvenience caused to the property owner. If there wasn’t a barrier around the object or a warning sign, you will also want to determine whether a barrier or sign could have prevented your accident from happening.
The lighting conditions can also be important in some cases. For example, if you tripped and fell while walking on stairs, you might have grounds to file a lawsuit if the stairwell was dark because of inadequate or broken lighting.
Your negligence or carelessness
In most slip-and-fall cases, determining whether the victim contributed to his or her accident will also be important. Pennsylvania follows a rule of modified comparative negligence. Under 42 Pa.C.S. § 7102, contributing to your accident will not be a bar to recovering damages as long as your negligence did not exceed the negligence of the defendant. However, your recovery will be reduced by the percentage of fault that is attributed to you. For example, if a jury determines that you were 49% at fault and the defendant was 51% at fault, you can still recover damages. Your award will be reduced by 49%, however. If the jury determines that your negligence was greater than the negligence of the defendant, you will not be able to recover damages.
Defendants commonly try to argue that the plaintiffs were careless and caused their accidents. They do this to try to limit their liability or avoid it altogether. This makes it important for you to evaluate your actions to determine whether your carelessness might prevent you from recovering damages.
Some things to consider include the following:
- Whether you had a valid and foreseeable reason for being in the area where the dangerous condition was located
- Whether a reasonable person would have noticed and avoided the dangerous condition
- Whether warning signs were placed in the area
- Whether you were distracted by your smartphone
- Whether you were engaging in unreasonable actions such as running, skipping, or jumping
Get help from DiCindio Law
Determining liability is the first step in figuring out whether you can recover damages after a slip-and-fall accident. An attorney at DiCindio Law can help by evaluating what happened and explaining the legal options and remedies that might be available. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation by calling us at 610.430.3535.